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In Vista, city officials amended local food truck regulations. Photo by Steve Puterski
In Vista, city officials amended local food truck regulations. Photo by Steve Puterski
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Vista makes changes to local food truck regulations

VISTA — The City Council amended its food truck ordinance to even the playing field with restaurants while helping strengthen the city’s burgeoning food scene.

The changes, adopted during the council’s June 13 meeting, include extending the maximum operating time in the right-of-way to three hours; extending operating hours from 7 a.m.-11 p.m.; eliminating the distance requirements; allowing trucks to operate in designated spaces on public property, and allowing trucks to work for up to eight hours at breweries.

Larry Vaupel, the city’s economic development director, said the city used a peer-reviewed study in 2022 from the Institute of Justice, citing a correlation between food trucks and restaurant growth as a basis to amend the ordinance.

“They are micro-enterprises that support entrepreneurship,” Vaupel said. “Food truck businesses can start up for less than $100,000. A restaurant is at least $300,000 to start up. Also, it’s a natural progression for food vendors.”

Under the previous code, food trucks are allowed a 30-minute time limit at one location, except for a three-hour limit in business parks.

Vaupel also cited national market trends exploding since 2021. The market size grew 5% annually to $1.456 billion nationwide. From 2021 to 2022, food trucks saw a $324 million sales increase, the largest gain in the industry’s history.

A customer takes her order from La Cocina Del Abuelo food truck on June 19  in San Marcos. Photo by Steve Puterski
A customer takes her order from La Cocina Del Abuelo food truck on June 19 in San Marcos. Photo by Steve Puterski

Vaupel said that the customer base is a younger demographic, with individuals aged 25 to 44 representing 43.4% and customers under 25 years old at 20%. In the last 10 years, the number of food trucks nationally has nearly tripled from 9,705 in 2012 to 35,512 in 2022.

However, several restaurant owners spoke in opposition to the amendment citing an unfair advantage in terms of operating costs for food truck owners, noting that restaurant owners must pay hundreds of thousands in start-up costs, plus other fixed expenses such as water, wastewater, property taxes and others that trucks do not incur.

Mayor John Franklin asked the council to wait several weeks before deciding, saying the city’s outreach attempts fell short. The city conducted a workshop on April 3 with one week’s notice and another on April 27 with one brewery in attendance.

Franklin said the city should contact restaurant owners and give them a chance to voice their opinion.

Councilwoman Corinna Contreras said there was enough time, and if the city pushed the item several weeks ahead, it would look like they were stalling.

Councilmember Dan O’Donnell and Councilmember Joe Green said they would like to build events around food trucks or have a city-designated food truck court. 

“I don’t agree that it hurts business,” O’Donnell said. “I would love to see a Vista Food Truck Day and a specific area for food trucks. It allows other businesses to promote themselves.”

The amended ordinance now requires food trucks to set up for a maximum of three hours in parallel parking spaces on streets with a 35 mph speed limit, serve customers on the sidewalk, remain at least 100 feet from intersections and provide a trash receptacle. Food trucks are also prohibited from using pennants, flags, music, horns and sirens due to public safety concerns.

For private property, trucks: cannot be on vacant land without a principal use established; can only operate if principal use is operating; must have written permission from the owner; must be on a paved surface; can park for three-hour maximum at one location (eight at a brewery), and can’t use pennants, flags and horns, among other regulations. 

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